The Gig Economy (AKA the Sharing Economy) has its appeal: choose your hours, choose your work, be your own boss, control your own income.
It is a unconnected collection of online platforms and apps that allow users to bypass some of the barriers to personal capitalism.
Some of the players are well known: Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Etsy, Airbnb, TaskRabbit. But there are many more apps that allow entrance into gig work that are not as well known. You are more likely to be a user of the sharing economy than being a worker in it.
Alexandrea J. Ravenelle has been studying predominantly millennial workers who work in this new economy. She is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mercy College and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. Her new book is Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy (University of California Press) which comes out of her research.
An earlier paper by her (see below) asked if these members of the gig economy were microentrepreneurs or working in the precariat class. The former is a positive label. The latter is not. The precariat social class is formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security. The term is a portmanteau obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.
I have written about the gig economy, and I feel like in my unretirement I am a member of that economy, even though I don't use any of the gig apps.
The optimism connected to the gig/shared economy is that it can help reverse economic inequality. It can enhance worker rights, and bring entrepreneurship to many more people.
But it is precarious too. What is lost includes worker safety, workplace protections around discrimination and sexual harassment, reliable income.
Ravenelle groups the stories of giggers into three types: Success Stories (they created the life they want), Strugglers (who can’t make ends meet) and Strivers (who have stable jobs and use the sharing economy for extra cash).
I know that some of my college students are part-time members of the gig economy. It is their way to earn money and gain experiences and perhaps make contacts for more permanent future work. The flexibility it offers works well for students. For example, I have had several Uber and Lyft drivers who were students who drove between classes and on the days off. I suppose they are closest to being Strivers, though being a student is hardly a "stable job." In higher education, adjunct instructors are also members of a kind of gig economy as many of them put together a full time life via part time teaching assignments along with other work.
Ravenelle's earlier paper "Microentrepreneur or precariat? Exploring the sharing economy through the experiences of workers for Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Uber and Kitchensurfing" was presented at the First International Workshop on the Sharing Economy held at Utrecht University June 4-5, 2018.
You can also watch the video with her slides.